Buffett to Porter: Snowballs and Guinea Pigs

Published on

Warren Buffett’s supremely numerate mother, Leila, taught her young son a ballad of compound interest, which they sang together.

Get The Full Warren Buffett Series in PDF

Get the entire 10-part series on Warren Buffett in PDF. Save it to your desktop, read it on your tablet, or email to your colleagues

Q2 2021 hedge fund letters, conferences and more

Warren still sings, and plays the ukulele, too.

But we have not, to my knowledge, heard a public rendition of the Buffett compound interest song.

Nearly a century ago Cole Porter composed a showtune of compound and romantic interest.

Reminding lovers, in their abandon, of Nature’s hidden design for compounding and exponential propagation of the species:

"Let's Do It (Let’s Fall In Love)" (1928)

Cole’s deliciously suggestive Darwinian ditty, with its standing invitation to “Do It,” sheds light upon our romantic blind spot linking love and procreation and the compounding growth of populations.

Warren’s partner, Charlie Munger, has termed that oft-forgotten blind spot, and sometimes misbegotten product, the ultimate example of

"It seemed like a good idea at the time."

Compounding And Procreation

The first of Cole Porter’s classic “list songs,” “Let’s Do It” celebrates compounding procreative power throughout earthly life—insects, fish, birds, mammals, chimps---all the way up the evolutionary tree…to us!

Even to nationalities and ethnicities, invoking some now verboten slang, long replaced by radio executives, eager to keep airwaves free of overt bigotry.

If you are innocent of the sweet delights of “Let’s Do It,” or have never savored it sung by the great Satchmo, Louis Armstrong, hear him now, backed by jazz giants, Oscar Peterson (piano), Herb Ellis (guitar), Louie Bellson (drums) and Ray Brown (bass).

Louis’ trumpet is, sadly, silent; his traumatized lip healing:

In a penultimate lyric, Cole and Louis reveal the very essence of compounding: Andrew Marvell’s “world enough and time.”

"Sweet guinea pigs do it. Buy a couple and wait."

Could there be a better expression of the power of compounding and exponential growth? Beyond even Warren Buffett’s snowball rolling down a hill?

For a snowball must, as economist Herb Stein famously predicted, like anything else which cannot go on forever, stop.

Ecosystems, unlike snowballs, have no endpoint.

And as Charlie Munger has said, “The big money is not in the buying and selling, but in the waiting.”

Nature is a great one for waiting.

If you but had the wisdom to, in Porter’s phrase, “buy a couple [of shares of Berkshire Hathaway in 1964 for $12.37 each] and wait,” at this writing, compounded at an average of 20% per annum over 47 years, your couple would have grown to

$860,014.12, close of trading, August 20, 2021

Sweet guinea pigs, indeed.

French philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote:

"All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone."

And wait.

About the Author

Mark Tobak, MD, is a general adult psychiatrist in private practice. He is the former chief of inpatient geriatric psychiatry and now an attending physician at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Harrison, NY. He graduated the University at Buffalo School of Medicine and Columbia University School of General Studies. Dr. Tobak also has a law degree from Fordham University School of Law and was admitted to the NY State Bar. His work appears in the American Journal of Psychiatry, Psychiatric Times, and American Journal of Medicine and Pathology. He is the author of Anyone Can Be Rich! A Psychiatrist Provides the Mental Tools to Build Your Wealth, which received high praise from Warren Buffett.